Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I've been slowly learning to rethink things, even if they seem a little backwards to me.

I came into Ghana really wanting to be culturally sensitive and willing to accommodate to whatever I needed to in order to be polite and considerate. But then I met people of the Akan tribe. Our group spent the last few days in Akropong at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Missions and Culture. The institute had a long name and a comfortable feel. It was almost resort like as it provided not only towels for us but soap and toilet paper too! High class, let me tell you. Well, one of our purposes for being there was to learn a little bit about Ghanaian culture, religion, and history. It was really great and informative, especially as we learned about what to do and what not to do in this Eastern Region of the country where Akan tribes reside. One Akan woman explained to us that the smallest things such as greetings, gratuity, raising hands or crossing legs means a ton for their people. And in all of these sensitivities, the first and foremost thing to remember is to never, EVER use your left hand. For anything. Well shoot. My observant and creepy eye made sure to take note that of the 17 other students and four members of my professor's family are right handed. That means I am the only odd one out. So now not only do I have to exchange my "Thank you"s to "Madase"s and worry that I'm crossing my legs too much, I now have to practice being ambidextrous in eating, waving, and taking anything from anyone else.

At first I was like, well I can't do that. But then I began asking myself why not. Just because I've been raised in a society where individuality is key and handedness is no longer forced, why does that make it better than any other cultural norms? Why should only I be above the cultural laws in this society and feel so offended that heaven forbid I have to change my ways? I wondered in a situation such as this, is there one cultural precedent, or are we as a global society forevermore bending and accommodating to each other, without one set way that's proper? So with a big sigh and a little more thought, I uncrossed my legs and moved my fork to the other side of my plate.

Speaking of food, I've also had to rethink some cuisine choices. I became a vegetarian in February for mainly environmental reasons. And my personal choices reflect an American lifestyle which I chose not to be a part of. But I've been quick to realize that Ghana is by no means the United States. So, along with my fork switching, a meat switching has also taken place. The decision has also come as a result of basically no other forms of protein in the country besides the occasional egg and cashew. Another sigh, another lesson learned, another chicken breast eaten.


Pam said...

Hi Katie,
Don and I found your blog to be very entertaining and educational. When I read about "not crossing your legs and not using your left hand", it reminded me of the old shower game where you won a prize if you managed not to do those things. :) I love being able to keep track of you and your experiences and look forward to your next post.

bkrp said...

Hi Katie
Reading your blog is fun, your adjustment to your new country sounds very much like my adjustment to my new home. Oklahoma is different than Michigan lets keep in touch and share our experiences!!!!!(ha!ha!)

MLSytsema said...

I too am enjoying your blog, Katie, and want you to know that I am in no way responsible for your lefthandedness. Good ole Dad shines through the genepool once again!